Kaburaki Kiyokata, (1878-1972)
Ghost of the Peony Lantern
hanging scroll, ink and color on silk; signed Kiyokata with one seal Shi, with tomobako, titled Botandoro with artist's signature and seal, ca. 1923-25; also accompanied with certificate of authenticity issued by Tokyo Bijutsu Kurabu Kantei Iinkai, (Tokyo Bijutsu Club), no. 86-16, dated Showa 61 (1986) and signed by Mitani Keizo
painting 10 3/8 by 9 1/2 in., 26.5 by 24 cm
overall 47 5/8 by 14 3/8 in., 121 by 36.5 cm
Kiyokata, born Kaburaki Ken'ichi, was the son of Jono Saigiku, a writer and founder of the newspaper Yamato Shimbun. In 1891, at the age of thirteen, his father arranged for Ken'ichi to study with Mizuno Toshikata (1866-1908), a painter and contributor to the newspaper. Toshikata was a student of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), one of the last great masters of ukiyo-e. In 1893 Ken'ichi was given the go (art name) Kiyokata, and the following year he replaced Toshikata as the principal illustrator at the newspaper.
From the mid-1890's, Kiyokata worked predominately as an illustrator. Starting with newspaper work, he eventually became a prolific designer of kuchi-e (novel frontispieces) and newspaper sashi-e (inserted illustrations). In 1897 one of his paintings was included the second competitive exhibition of the Japan Painting Association (Nihon Kaiga Kyokai). In 1901 he and Hirezaki Eiho (1881-1968) founded the Ugokai (Cormorant Society), a small organization of ukiyo-e illustrators that were concentrating on producing paintings. Although his illustrating commissions kept him busy, by 1907 Kiyokata resolved he would quit commercial work by the time he turned 40 in order to focus on painting. As an 'old school' ukiyo-e artist Kiyokata had a hard time gaining acceptance as a painter; in 1909 one of his paintings was included in the third Bunten. One of Kiyokata's greatest contributions to Nihonga was his students, which include Ito Shinsui (1898-1972), Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), Kasamatsu Shiro (b. 1898), Yamakawa Shuho (1898-1944); Torii Kotondo (1900-1976), and Kobayakawa Kiyoshi (1896-1948).
The subject of the painting based on one of the most famous Japanese ghost stories, Botan Doro (Peony Lantern). The original story came from a book of Chinese ghost stories, Jian Deng Xin Hua (New Tales Under the Lamplight) which was translated into Japanese in the 1600s. In 1666 it was adapted by Asai Ryoi (1612-1691) in his book Otogi Boko (Hand Puppets), in which he located the characters in the Nezu district of Edo. In 1884 it was revived and expanded into a rakugo (lit. 'fallen words') by the popular rakugoka (storyteller) Encho Sanyutei (1839-1900); in 1892 it was adapted for the kabuki stage under the title Kaidan Botan Doro (Ghost Story of the Peony Lantern). In 1899 Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) included a version titled A Passional Karma in his book In Ghostly Japan.
With all of these adaptations and variations the story does change considerably, but the essence of the plot centers on a beautiful woman who first seen walking at night while she, or her maid, carries a peony lantern. A man falls in love with her, not realizing that she is really a ghost. He is unable to resist her charms and carries on an insatiable affair, which ultimately leads to his death. The original story was intended to convey a karmic lesson, but later versions focused on both the romantic story of a forbidden love as well as the macabre imagery of sexual encounters between the living and the dead.
Ellen P. Conant, Steven D. Owyoung, J. Thomas Rimer, Nihonga: Transcending the Past: Japanese-Style Painting, 1868-1968, The Saint Louis Art Museum, 1995, pp. 300-301
Kaburaki Kiyokata: A Retrospective, Tokyo: The National Museum of Modern Art,1999
Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, Woodblock Kuchi-e Prints, Reflections of Meiji Culture, University of Hawaii Press, 2000, pp. 198-201
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site last updated
July 18, 2019
Scholten Japanese Art
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